Irish Boarding - an update

A Celtic Education

Rory Reilly argues that parents interested in boarding their children should look to the Emerald Isle

Full boarding on the island of Ireland may be half the cost of that on mainland Britain but it would be a mistake to imagine that what is on offer is an inferior product. Boarding in the Republic of Ireland is less expensive, simply because the state pays the salaries of many of the teachers and this removes a significant financial burden from school budgets. Quite a number of schools offer a mix of day and boarding but three offer top quality, seven-day boarding which compares favourably with that on offer by their higher profile cousins across the water: co-ed St Columba’s College with 340 pupils near Dublin and the two boys’ schools, Clongowes Wood College with 440 boys in County Meath and Glenstal Abbey with 250 boys in County Limerick.

Apart from the fees which hover around an annual €20,000 to €23,000, one significant difference between the UK and ROI is that schools in the Republic cannot select on the basis of academic ability. ‘When league tables are what matter most then preselection and screening out of children who are less academic becomes the most important thing,’ says Mark Boobbyer, head of St Columba’s, ‘it is a relief to be in a system where I can do what is best for each child rather than worrying about league table standings’.

Fr William Fennelly, head of Glenstal, talks in terms of ‘making a virtue of the legal framework, and it works’. He sees the process of joining Glenstal ‘as a conversation between the parent and the school’. It must be child-focused if it is to work and the important question is ‘do we suit the child?’ not the other way around.

Like its UK counterpart, the Republic of Ireland’s curriculum has two set-piece examinations. The Junior Certificate is taken at the age of 15 and the Leaving Certificate at 18. This latter course
is studied over a pupil’s final two years and like the IB a minimum of six subjects are taken at Higher or Ordinary Level. Those applying to the top universities in Ireland, the UK, Europe or the US will generally take Higher Level courses whereas the Ordinary Level will allow access onto courses more suited to those whose interests may be less academic. The final qualification is in a points, rather than grade format and is accepted by all UK universities.

Between the Junior and Leaving Certificates sits the Transition Year. Without exams or a set curriculum this is an opportunity for schools and indeed pupils to set the agenda. Fr William Fennelly describes it as being ‘truly liberating’, a time when ‘pupils own their academic ambitions and choices, where they are free to learn different skills and studies, whether these are in the fields of engineering or drama’. During this year pupils go on exchange to schools in Germany, France, the US or Australia, engage in charity work and explore the nature of learning as well as the workplace. It represents a release from the confines of an examined curriculum and it allows schools the opportunity to focus on extra-curricular learning which is all too rare in today’s schooling. It is hugely popular with those coming to these schools from overseas as it provides a less pressured introduction to the Irish system before embarking on those final pre-university courses.

For expat families holding EU passports, the ROI schools offer yet another distinct advantage. Three years spent in an Irish boarding school grants non EEA domiciled pupils access to European universities at European rates. This can represent a huge saving. The top pupils will apply to Oxford or Cambridge, alongside Trinity and UCD and a small but significant number apply to the US and to Europe. Five from Glenstal went on to study in Holland last year while one went to Oxford and two more to NYU and Notre Dame in the US. St Columba’s regularly sends 20 to 30 per cent of its pupils to top Russell Group universities, while Trinity and UCD dominate the Clongowes’ list with one heading for Cambridge to read Natural Sciences and another to the US last year.

Boarding tends to run along a horizontal line with year groups moving up the houses together. Only St Columba’s runs along the more traditional British house system where houses are organised vertically, possibly because of the size of the schools with relatively small year groups. At the lower end, dormitories are the norm while sixth-formers tend to have single or double rooms, albeit not quite at Home Counties standard.

Despite working in the same jurisdiction and following the same curriculum, these three schools are quite distinctive. St Columba’s is a top class co-educational boarding school. It sits on a wonderful elevated site overlooking Dublin, just 35 minutes from the airport, in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. Head Mark Boobbyer, previously head of Tiger Kloof Educational Institute on the edge of the Kalahari in South Africa, has struck gold with this gem of a school. It has a familiar formality and the pupils wear gowns to lessons. It also ranks close to the very top when it comes to average points score per pupil at Leaving Certificate.

Clongowes Wood College, just 40 minutes west of Dublin, is the biggest boarding school in the country with 440 boys. This is the school of the modern-day politician, entrepreneur, international rugby player and member of the judiciary. Alumni include the literary greats, James Joyce and Oliver St John Gogarty, businessmen Michael O’Leary and Sir Michael Smurfit, and over three centuries of Irish politicians from John Redmond of the Irish Parliamentary Party to current Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney and former Taoiseach John Bruton. Deputy head Martin Wallace is tasked with developing an innovative educational philosophy which is more in tune with 21st-century needs but yet is compatible with a Jesuit education. Martin says, ‘While we frequently quote Yeats to the effect that education is not the filling of a pail, the reality has been that much of what we have been doing in our schools has been exactly that.’ He is convinced that both teaching methods and classroom design need to evolve. ‘Square boxes and straight lines of desks reflect the mindset of the Industrial Revolution with its emphasis on mass production and conformity of practice.’ He wants the new sixth-form centre to provide ‘spaces that stimulate creativity and innovation.’

Glenstal is a Benedictine School with a relaxed, informal feel. It is the smallest of these schools with just 250 boys. As the monks would have done in earlier times, pupils and staff address one another by their first names. This is not some liberal affectation, it is as it always has been here. While the library is a wonderful Hogwarts-style circular room, the classrooms are modern and spacious with glazing overlooking the botanical gardens below. The atmosphere is respectful, considerate and supportive. Turning out young men of integrity is important to William Fennelly, ‘what they actually do matters’. One of my nephews described his old school as ‘the organic farm’ of boarding schools, though I suspect rugby and hunting are more often topics of conversation than actual farming.

Apart from these three, a number of high quality schools in Dublin offer a mix of day and boarding. Co-ed King’s Hospital School is 40 per cent boarding, while the 90 or so boys at Blackrock represent just 10 per cent of the total roll. Wesley College has two boarding houses, for girls and boys, while Alexandra College and Rathdown School are girls only.

Headfort in County Meath is the only boarding prep school in ROI. The boys and girls live and learn in this huge rambling Georgian mansion which also houses the most magnificent Robert Adam interior. Some are prepared for entry to the cream of English public schools while many will move onto the schools mentioned above. It is a school which positively encourages the freedom of spirit. Pupils appear to run free, trees are climbed, forts built, ponies ridden across country, but headmaster, Dermot Dix, recognises that alongside this is the requirement to engage in quality academic learning which he provides with bundles of idiosyncratic style.

North of the border in Northern Ireland, the model is different. All the schools follow the GCSE, A-level programme but again fees are far below the rest of the UK. Campbell College in Belfast has the feel of a smaller Haileybury or Malvern with its impressive buildings from where you can actually see the planes land at Belfast City Airport. Campbell is a traditional boys’ school with a huge emphasis on sport, particularly rugby. Day pupils pass through a competitive 11+ process while the school has its own admissions criteria for the circa 200 boarding places.

The Royal School Armagh, which is to lose its dynamic head, Paul Crute, to the new Nord Anglia international day school in Dublin, has built up an impressive boarding section in a number of elegant town houses in the city of Armagh. With almost 150 boarders it rivals Campbell in terms of numbers. It has a very businesslike approach and does exactly what it says on the tin. It takes in bright kids and delivers them out in numbers to Queen’s Belfast, Trinity Dublin and a variety of English and Scottish universities. Boarding at the co-ed Rockport, to the east of Belfast, and at the all girls Victoria College is on a much smaller scale.

We try so hard to get it right for our children when choosing schools but for many the fees for boarding are prohibitive. If boarding is a model you are drawn to then do think about taking the short flight to Dublin or Belfast. Irish schools offer a valid alternative to the UK. With a far less stressful entry processes and shorter lead-in times, schools in northern Ireland and the ROI appear to be both accessible and affordable.

This article was originally published in the spring/summer 2018 issue of School House.


Revision and The Easter Holidays

For years of teaching I despaired at my colleagues’ advice on how to revise.  Most seemed totally divorced from reality, or at least the reality of the adolescent.  Most saw their particular subject as the most important and most expected far too much of their pupils.  Even today I see advice such as suggesting that the subject specification is the place to start but how can you expect that of a pupil who is feeling just every so slightly desperate right now?

Good advice should be realistic.  Sensible advice should not suggest that your average teenager is going to work for eight hours per day for four weeks right through the holidays.  

Let’s take your average A level pupil, studying four subjects, with four weeks holiday from his/her Independent school.  One week of the holidays will be spent on family holiday, visiting relatives, going on a training camp or whatever.  Two other weekends are given over to other activities and the first weekend is an opportunity for sleep.

So that leaves 15 days to be spread across three subjects.  Let’s assume that one of these is examined very late on, or has been dealt with through continuous assessment, a portfolio or whatever, or is that one subject that the individual really does have a grasp of.

Now decide about the number of hours of intensive revision that is actually feasible.  I’m not talking about the more gentle reading that can be done in the evening, - this refers to the really intense stuff and we’ll come to the how later.  My advice is to allocate four hours in the morning to the sort of work that really does shove that knowledge into your brain cells.

So now we have three subjects, often divided into two teachers’ timetables or in other words six files to be dealt with.

15 days multiplied by 4 hours, divided by the 6 chunks of subject matter and you have 10 hours for your Physical Geography, British History or whatever.  Now have a look at the topics that your teacher has told you to cover.  Select the ten that need attention and slot these into your plan.  And about that plan - decide on the hours, the chunks of time, the topics and stick to it.  

Where you study is up to you but don’t head for your bedroom only to spend all your time studying the paint pattern on the wall or racing raindrops down windows.  I couldn’t study in my room, it was a disaster.  You may work better at the kitchen table, in the study, conservatory or wherever but make sure it is somewhere that will work for you.  

Don’t kid yourself that you can only work if you have music on.  Just think for one minute about that sort of statement, there’s no need for me to go on, and I’m not just a boring old git…..I used exactly the same argument.

Some will like to use index cards others special notebooks.  My preference was for A4 exercise books.  All topics were re-noted, original notes were condensed and a discreet topic would be transferred onto one side of carefully designed A4.  Headings were in red, text in black, key words underlined and so on.  Don’t try to revise by just reading your notes, it doesn’t work.  Re-work them into neat, carefully designed sheets and these will be so easy to revise from on those final days or hours before the exam.  Condensing your class and homework notes like this really does get the subject matter to lodge in the brain.  Do not scribble, take pride in these, they are the most important notes that you have ever written and each day will end with a real sense of accomplishment.

I have suggested working in the morning.  This is not because research suggests this is the best time, it is simply so that you can feel a real sense of accomplishment.  You will be doing something really positive while the rest of your world is in bed or watching day-time TV.  It also leaves a guilt-free afternoon or evening to be played with.  It may be that you could spend time reading that textbook, going over those poems, reading that chapter, but you don’t have to, you have already done the serious work.

15 days of work will result in 60 carefully designed and written revision pages.  It will give you a huge sense of achievement and you will have learnt so much.

Set the start day and then stick to it, otherwise you will spend the next two days re-designing your whole programme.  And don’t spend your precious revision time “organising” your files.  If you want to do that do it in the afternoon or evening.

Obviously you won’t have covered everything by the time you get back to school but you will have covered a lot, you will also have learnt how to revise and there are still more weeks to go before the exams kick in.  Good luck and get to it.

‘Cash for places’ A view from the front line - Rory Reilly


(written in response to articles in The Daily Telegraph Saturday 10 December 2016)


When I set up Fairfield Education it was partly in response to having dealt with various “agents” and “so-called education consultancies” (Daily Telegraph Saturday 10th December) in my former role as School Registrar, and partly because I felt I could offer something useful to families trying to wade through the complexity of the wildly different admissions processes of the UK’s top Independent boarding schools.

Today’s revelations in the Telegraph are not new to me and rumours of the huge sums mentioned have been swirling around for years.  It is a murky business and one where I believe certain “agents” have conned parents into believing that they could buy their way into particular schools.  I am also absolutely sure that it has happened and that schools have been happy to take the cash, but I am also sure that the agents have also been the ones to benefit.  In many cases I suspect the schools have not engaged but if the pupil in question does gain a place through fair rather than foul means, then both agent and school do rather well out of the deal.

What has not been touched on in today’s paper is the business of schools paying commission to agents.  This is quite normal practice and the industry standard for commissionis approximately 10% of the first year’s school fees or £3,000+.  As an Educational Consultant I feel that this could compromise the whole process.  Just this summer I had to explain to a Chinese client who had been “advised” by another “consultant” that the commission the agent was likely to get from one of the favoured schools was more than my total fee.  His son was capable of gaining a place at a top-ranked school but he was being advised to place him at one which paid the highest commission.

My view has always been that agents are entitled to commission as long as they are clear on how that works and as long as both the school and the client are fully aware.  At Fairfield we prefer not to charge or accept commission, and to make clear to both client and school that we will work only in the best interests of the child.  So are there “rich pickings for agents in school place hunt”?  Undoubtably there are instances where clients pay very large sums for an inferior service.  Just because “consultants” have attended these schools or have built a network of contacts in the city or indeed in the schools, it does not make them experts in the field of education.  There are some really good professionals in the world of educational consultancy but how to distinguish them from the “sharks” is what is so difficult.  We do have wealthy clients but we also have clients who need bursaries and who cannot afford the normal boarding fees.  Our whole business model is based on trust - between us and the schools and between us and the client.  Trust is fragile.  It is built over many years but it can be destroyed all too quickly.

Rory I Reilly  Fairfield Education

A Boarding School for 2016 - “Have I left it too late?”

All the sensible advice is that you are too late, that you need to plan for your child’s education at least two years in advance and that you have to enquire, register, visit, sit entry tests, select the right school, etc. etc.  It’s no wonder it generally does take even more than two years.

But what if you have to move, what if your son/daughter’s school is simply not up to the task, what if your work or family circumstances dictate that a place at a top boarding school is essential and for September of this year?

You could try working through The Sunday Times Parent Power guide, you could trawl through the Best Schools website, you could talk to friends, read The Good Schools Guide, you could panic or you could give up, even before you start.  If you are lucky enough to find a school with a vacancy how can you be sure that the school is right for your child?  At this stage it looks like an impossible task and, with schools closing at the end of June for the summer holidays, time is not on your side.

A solution may be to approach an Education Placement Agency or Consultancy but again how will you know who to approach or who to trust?

At this point I have to confess to being one of those Educational Consultants but what I can offer is not possible through any other agency.  For ten years I worked as Registrar for Admissions for one of the top UK Boarding Schools.  During that time I built a close working relationship with my fellow Registrars in all of the top boarding schools.  We attended Education Shows and Exhibitions, we took UK boarding education to Switzerland and Dubai, interviewed in Hong Kong and worked hard to make the Independent Schools Show in London the great success that it is today.  We may have been in competition but we actually worked very closely with one another too.  It was the closeness of this community that first tempted me to set up Fairfield Education and I am now trusted to hold the only comprehensive list of Boarding vacancies for September 2016 as we speed towards the summer holidays.  The schools trust me with this information, they inform me when vacancies arise and they take my recommendations to them seriously.

There is no short-cut to making the right application to the right boarding school but with our experience as a small bespoke organisation, we can compress the whole process into a very short time period.  This only works through complete trust.  Parents must trust our judgement and be prepared to move very quickly in order to secure that elusive place.  I cannot guarantee that Rugby, Oundle, Tonbridge or King’s Canterbury will actually have a space but I can guarantee that I will know if they do.

Detail of the process is on our website and if you feel that we could assist you just get in touch by email or phone.  We should be able to help and if we can’t we will be honest enough to tell you.

Rory I Reilly
+44 7810 637 555

The Russian Dilemma

Assimilation and Integration into UK Schools

“The Russian Dilemma”


This is the text of a talk given to predominantly Russian families in London in June 2015

Like most of you I too am an outsider.  I was not brought up in this English Public School system.  I was born and educated in Ireland.  I studied at Trinity College in Dublin and lived there for a number of years before moving to London to initially follow a rowing career.  This led on to a teaching career and I moved into the English Public School system in 1980.

As a result of my background I feel I have always been able to view this education system from a rather different perspective and I think this has given me an advantage when dealing with families from different parts of the world.  I recognise that there are different education systems and that there are different ways of bringing up children.  I also recognise and understand that feeling of complete bewilderment when it comes to understanding just how these schools work.  For me, moving to work in an English boarding school was like stepping onto the other side of the moon.  Understanding the traditions, the ways of behaving, and the hierarchy all took time.  I was frequently confused but more often I was struck by the dedication of the staff, the ambition of the pupils and above all, that belief in a truly holistic education where pupils’ opinions were valued and where the individual mattered more than the system.

Then for ten years, up to last September, I worked as the Registrar for Admissions at The King’s School Canterbury, and one of the very interesting changes that took place during that time was the appearance of Russian, Ukranian and Kazakh families in my office for the first time. 

British schools had no experience of Russian pupils, and Russian families had no experience of Public Schools.  This led to the development of what I have often referred to as “The Russian Dilemma ”“The Russian Dilemma”

There are a number of different aspects to this.

UK Schools

Firstly the schools themselves had no idea as to how to engage with these Russian  families.  As with all change the schools were rather hesitant about admitting these new pupils and when they did they paid very little attention to the difficulties these pupils faced in settling into a totally different culture.  As a result a significant number of pupils did not manage to integrate properly and many did not last for more than a year.  The schools were often unwilling, or perhaps unable to engage with the families, to try to establish just who they were or what their background was.  Even if the children did manage to make a success of their schooling the parents often felt excluded.

Number of Applications

The second aspect of the “Dilemma”  has been the huge surge in applications from Russia and the CIS.  In 2007 there were just 800 Russian pupils in Independent Schools in the UK, by 2014 there were over 8,500. In my final year as Registrar 11% of all my future registrations were from Russia.  The problem is that many of the Agents working for Russian families are not trusted by the schools; they have no real understanding of the selection procedures and as a result they apply to lots of different schools.  This has led to this huge jump in registrations which in turn has led to an unofficial “quota” system.  What this means is that the application system to some of these schools is neither fair nor logical.  One boy that we placed in a top boarding school earlier this year had been turned down by schools that didn't even make it into the top 200 on the league tables.  I had another family tell me that they applied to seven different schools, were turned down by three but had been offered a place in the school which was the highest in the league tables.  They could not understand what was going on.  So, families are applying to too many schools, schools are getting to the point where they have too many applications and the process needs to change.  One Registrar that I know solved the problem by just hitting the delete button!

Parental Understanding

A third aspect to this problem is that you as parents don’t know enough about what you are getting into.  You may not have come across the situation where you cannot simply book a place in your preferred school.  Recently a family visiting Oundle School realised what they were dealing with only when the Registrar for Admissions asked the girl “Why should we take you when we have four applicants for each place?”  The top schools can pick and choose who they like, not just who will pass the exams but who will contribute most to the wider school community.  

Many parents, quite naturally, think that they are choosing the school, others think that it is the children that are being assessed but very few realise that they too are being judged.  Schools want families to be involved with the school, to be truly interested in their children’s education and to believe that education is important for its own sake and not as a badge to wear or to highlight on a CV.

So how do we solve the problem?

Preparation is the key

The Right Advice

As parents you need to learn more, understand more and get the right advice.  You must also focus on your children and move away from the “prestige” element of choosing a school.  We have all heard of Harrow or Eton but, despite the undoubted quality of each school, neither would be right for my son, or indeed my daughter.  What parents often fail to understand is that a league table of schools is not a comparison of similar institutions.  Benenden School is hugely different to Wycombe Abbey; Sevenoaks is a very different school to Tonbridge, and Uppingham may be a better school for your boy than Harrow.  If you get the right advice you will be guided towards schools that will be the correct fit for your child.  I have recently been advising two East European pupils; one is going to Canford School and the other to Wellington.  Both schools are the “right” school; one is not better than the other but they are different from one another!  What we offer, we hope, is the right advice.

Academic Preparation

Academic preparation is important too.  The entry examinations for most schools focus on English and Mathematics.  Generally speaking Russian pupils do well in Maths but their level of English can let them down both at interview and in the examination papers.  This is an area that needs to be worked on over a period of time and appropriate tutoring can be a huge help.  All of the top schools operative a competitive entry system - some are simply more competitive than others.  In order to be considered for entry your child must already be above national average in terms of intelligence, he/she must be able to write fluently in English and they must also be able to talk easily and openly at interview.  Understanding the expectations of the schools is the key to success.


How your sons and daughters are presented to schools is also very important.  You should not apply to lots of schools - you should apply to the “right” schools, probably just three.  Again this is where you need good advice from a consultant that you can trust.  Most agents apply with reports from school that are limited to the standard numerical value - all have grade 5 in almost every subject.  This does not give the schools the information they need and some will just hit that delete button at this stage.  More is needed in order to get past this very first stage.  Schools have to be convinced to take your application seriously.

Social Preparation

The fourth aspect to preparation is in some ways the most important.  Once you have set out on this path your children need to be prepared socially for what is going to happen.  A good Summer School or Induction Programme can be a huge help.  You already know just how strange this country is and you must therefore be aware of the fact that your 13 year old child is going to be faced with a completely different culture and environment in an English Boarding School.

A very small number of Summer Schools is worth considering and I suggest you consider two.  The first is one that offers an introduction to the whole boarding experience at an English school.  The Summer Academy  ( will be based at Sunningdale School in July 2015.  It combines serious academic work with  outdoor activity and cultural experiences.  It is ideal for those looking to broaden their understanding of UK boarding school life.  The second is designed to work on how the individual Russian child needs to broaden his/her thinking in order to avoid those embarrassing situations when they actually start school.  English society is very different to Russian society but the schools are even more different and there is nothing worse for the adolescent than getting it wrong socially at the start.  The “Fit Right In” programme, run by Regency Education (, in a traditional country house in The Cotswolds, places the emphasis on introducing young people to the subtleties of British society and values.


My final word of caution is for you as parents to remember that you also are being assessed when you visit the schools.  Visiting schools is not like looking for a new apartment.  You are being judged from the moment you arrive in the school.  This is because the schools are looking for families that will fit in, that will add something to the school community, that will engage with those they meet and that will be genuinely interested in their children’s education.

Remember, following that very friendly meeting with the Registrar or Head Teacher, notes will be written and judgements made.  In a very competitive world these notes matter!

The very last word!

It is so important to remember that the key person in all of this is your son or daughter.  It is their happiness, confidence and well-being that really matters. 

Thank you.

Rory I Reilly

2 June 2015

Affordable Boarding in Ireland

With school fees for the best boarding schools in the UK now standing at around £34,000 per year it is worth considering some alternatives.  

One option is to try to gain a place at a UK State Boarding School but places at the more academic such as Cranbrook in Kent are very difficult to come by and the criteria for selection will not leave many places for pupils coming in from overseas.

A more viable option is to consider the Irish Boarding Schools.  There has been a long tradition of boarding in Ireland, most aimed at the local population, but this has declined over time and today a smaller number of the older more established schools remain.

Top of the list in the Republic of Ireland must be Glenstal Abbey School ( in County Limerick and St Columba’s College ( outside Dublin.  

Both schools are relatively small in comparison to UK schools (fewer than 300 pupils) but both are genuinely academic and offer a full boarding package.  St Columba’s offers full boarding for €22,000 and Glenstal’s fees are just over €17,000.  In comparison to the best UK schools this represents huge value for money; cutting the cost by well over 50% in comparison to, for instance, Rugby or Wellington.  And the education gained at these schools must not be seen as second best.  They educate the cream of Irish society and both are well versed in getting their pupils into the top universities in Ireland, the UK and overseas.  

In many ways they offer even better access to universities than their equivalents in the UK in that they can offer the added attraction of Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, etc. alongside the UCAS route to the top UK institutions.

In terms of access to university the North of Ireland offers exactly the same.  The education system is more familiar; GCSE and A Levels rather than the Irish Leaving Certificate but boarding in the northern province is limited to a similarly small number of schools. For a co-ed Grammar School experience one of the very best is The Royal School Armagh where staff have established a very sophisticated academic tracking system which is embedded in the academic and pastoral system.  The boarding facilities and accommodation are as good as anywhere in England with limited numbers of overseas pupils.

For girls only, Victoria College ( is probably the top option.  Victoria has an ambitious academic feel and its results are impressive.  Campbell College ( is a big traditional boys’ school with almost as much emphasis on sport as on academic matters.  It is more forgiving in terms of entry requirements and has recently built a brand new 6th form boarding house with all the modern conveniences of a University Hall of Residence.  Rockport School ( in Holywood near Belfast has a strong Prep Department and educates boys and girls up to GCSE level.  Many then transfer to UK boarding schools for the 6th form.  They also prepare pupils for Common Entrance at age 13.

The fee structure in Northern Ireland is different to the South with EU pupils typically paying just £10,500 per year and non-EU ranging from £14,000 at Armagh Royal to £17,500 at Campbell and Victoria, and £20,500 at Rockport. Once again this represents incredible value for money.

Senior school education in all of the schools mentioned starts at age 11 but entry is possible at 13 and at 16.  The Republic of Ireland has the added attraction of a Transition Year which acts as an introductory year to the 6th form but without the added pressure of the full Leaving Certificate curriculum.  It offers overseas pupils that all-important time to bed in and get used to the different environment.  This is not possible in most UK schools where pupils have to dive straight into the A Level curriculum.

Most parents will be familiar with the A Level programme with its emphasis on three or four subjects.  The Leaving Certificate is more broadly based, rather like the IB and subjects such as Mathematics and English are compulsory.  It is recognised as a valid entry route for all UK universities and indeed for the US.

The biggest obstacle to parents is lack of familiarity with the schools.  These are not the big names that people remember but the Irish education system has long been recognised as being very impressive and familiarity can be improved by a week-long visit to the Emerald Isle.  Access is easy with airports in Belfast, Dublin, and Shannon in the West.

Fairfield Education is well placed to advise on these schools with a permanent presence in Ireland and with two Irish-educated consultants.  Ongoing advice and support is possible while the pupils are at school, and all travel and accommodation can be included in their service.  Director, Rory Reilly was educated at Trinity College Dublin and Kingston University London, and acted as Registrar for Admissions at the King’s School Canterbury for over ten years.  He now manages a team of highly qualified and experienced educational consultants advising parents on the best route through to the best boarding schools in the UK, Ireland and Switzerland.

Déménager to London

Fairfield Education Blog

Les bienfaits d’un transfert vers une ‘Independent School’  (une école ou un lycée privé) britannique peuvent être formidables. Votre fils (ou fille) se trouvera libéré(e) du programme scolaire officiel en rigueur en France et il (ou elle) se retrouvera dans un environnement où ses opinions seront respectées, où l’on attendra de lui (ou d’elle) une contribution en classe, et où l’apprentissage pourra devenir une aventure.

Il est plus facile de déménager avec des enfants en jeune âge mais partir en Grande Bretagne peut être aussi bien une occasion prodigieuse qu’un énorme problème, selon votre point de vue et de celui de votre enfant. Les décisions les plus importantes à considérer pour votre enfant sont : jusqu’à quel point voulez-vous pousser son bilinguisme ainsi que l’impact de l’influence de la culture britannique.

A ce niveau, le débat est pratique autant que philosophique. Si vous voulez que votre enfant soit bilingue tout en retenant son identité culturelle française, il vous faut effectuer des recherches. Si vous l’immergez dans une école ou un lycée britannique, vous courrez le risque de voir son français stagner à un niveau plutôt juvénile mais si vous l’envoyez au lycée français, il ne sera jamais vraiment bilingue. Lors de votre déménagement pour Londres, la décision est donc assez simple : soit vous restez dans le système français, ou vous vous aventurez en dehors et recherchez un établissement qui comprendra la formation scolaire de votre enfant et qui fera preuve de l’indulgence nécessaire.

Au niveau primaire (junior school), il est assez facile d’en trouver. Londres est une ville internationale et la plupart des ‘Prep’, ‘Pre-Prep’ et ‘Nursery Schools’ du centre-ville sont aussi internationales. Eaton Square School compte plus de 40 nationalités parmi ses 390 élèves, dont 21 français. Le directeur, Sebastian Hepher, suggère que « le défi auquel les élèves français font face ne diffère pas de celui des autres nationalités européennes ». 

L’augmentation de la clientèle française s’avère vraie pour toutes les écoles qu’il rencontre régulièrement et est due aux récents changements de législation sur le continent.

Selon Eaton Square, l’information la plus pertinente est la suivante :

Au moment de leur admission, le système français est toujours en retard de plusieurs années et la lecture, par exemple, ne s’effectue qu’à partir de 6 ou 7 ans. Donc si un enfant entre en ‘Reception’ (Maternelle ou CP) et jusqu’en ‘Year 4’ (CE2), il peut y avoir des problèmes connexes.

Pour les non-anglophones : l’acquisition de l’anglais parlé est assez rapide et en un an la plupart des enfants communiquent bien. Cependant, l’acquisition de compétences telles que l’inférence de texte et la compréhension en profondeur lors de la lecture ou de l’écriture peut prendre jusqu’à sept ans pour être complète.

La réponse à ces défis, d’après Sebastian, « est de fournir un support soutenu en EAL (English as an Additional Language) et de ‘l’écouler’ par le biais des enseignants et des leçons. Avec ceci en place, le succès sera remporté. Il est aussi important, pour bien cimenter le tout, que l’anglais soit parlé autant que les autres langues à la maison. Si cela s’avère difficile pour les parents, une ‘nounou’ anglaise, si ‘nounou’ il y a, est préférable. De plus, regarder la TV et écouter la radio en anglais renforce le phénomène ».

L’alternative, pour votre enfant, est de rejoindre l’une des nombreuses écoles primaires françaises telle que l’Ecole de Battersea qui éduque actuellement 200 élèves âgés de 3 à 11 ans.

Partir pour le Royaume Uni ou rejoindre une école ou un lycée britannique lorsque votre enfant est plus âgé, de 13 à 16 ans, est probablement plus difficile et n’imaginez pas, je vous prie , que votre fils ou fille y arrivera sans préparation préalable.

Entre 300 000 et 400 000 français vivent maintenant à Londres, ce qui lui vaut la réputation d’être la sixième ville la plus grande de France. Il en résulte qu’il est possible de trouver un « mini lycée » dans la plupart de ses faubourgs mais en dehors de la capitale, les choses sont très différentes et la provision d’éducation française est très rare ; l’exception : Northbourne Park Prep School dans le Kent qui suit le cursus français en parallèle avec le programme britannique. Le Lycée Charles de Gaulle, à Londres, qui ouvrit ses portes en 1915, compte maintenant presque 4 000 élèves. Un nouveau Lycée, de 1 000 élèves, s’ouvrira à Brent Town Hall à Wembley en 2015. Ce bâtiment Art Déco, historique de liste II, fut vendu par le conseil de Brent à l’ambassade de France.

Pour en revenir au planning de votre déménagement ; si votre fils ou fille a déjà une bonne maitrise de l’anglais, vous pouvez vous pencher sur les différences de programmes. N’essayez pas de couvrir toutes les matières mais concentrez-vous sur les mathématiques et l’anglais, ainsi que, bien que de moindre ampleur, sur les sciences. Marc Dath, qui enseigne les mathématiques et fut 17 ans ‘Housemaster’ (maître d’internat) à The King’s School Canterbury, explique que les difficultés rencontrées par un élève français qui rejoint un lycée qui suit le programme britannique se manifestent sur trois niveaux.

« Premièrement, les méthodes d’enseignement françaises sont très axiomatiques alors que l’approche britannique est plus heuristique. L’enfant apprend à ‘jouer’ avec les mathématiques et les sciences et laisse la formalisation à plus tard. C’est en contraste marqué avec l’approche française qui préfère la rigueur au plaisir. Ceci engendre des leçons qui peuvent paraître moins structurées dans le cursus anglais et moins enclines à suivre le plan ‘définition-théorème-lemme’ du programme national français.

Le deuxième obstacle auquel l’élève français doit faire face est la présentation des solutions mathématiques. La rigidité des plans de leçons du programme français est dûment réfléchie dans l’attente qu’ont les professeurs de solutions écrites inattaquables. L’absence d’un simple connecteur d’implication vous coûtera cher ! En revanche, dans un devoir anglais, des points vous seront attribués pour une simple allusion explicative.

Et cela nous amène à la troisième difficulté. Afin de pouvoir produire des solutions aux arguments strictes, le système français préfère la qualité à la quantité, ce qui l’amène à tester trois ou quatre thèmes dans les examens. Tant pis pour vous si l’examen en contient que vous n’avez pas révisé. En revanche, les examens anglais s’efforcent de tester autant de thèmes au programme que possible. Cela implique une capacité de régurgitation d’autant de méthodes et de techniques que possible dans le temps imparti. Beaucoup d’élèves français trouvent cette tâche difficile dans la durée donnée. Cependant, ce sont des difficultés qui, en fin de compte et avec la bonne attitude, peuvent être surmontées et la plupart de notre contingent français s’adapte, à la longue, aux exigences trans-manche ».

Luke Sullivan, Directeur de ‘Riviera Tutors’ (une firme qui travaille beaucoup avec des familles de Monaco et du Sud de la France), conseille aux élèves qui passent du système français au système privé britannique de s’attaquer au problème de la langue avant tout autre: « L’hypothèse de la compétence en anglais étaie chaque matière, même les mathématiques. Les questions d’examen sont parfois conçues pour punir les négligences de lecture par les élèves anglais de naissance, et pour un étranger ce niveau de nuance peut être un obstacle sérieux. Nous recommandons des leçons intensives d’anglais écrit et parlé pour les élèves étrangers qui font la transition vers le Royaume Uni car sinon la teneur générale des matières peut être inaccessible ; le but est d’égaliser les chances et non pas de gagner un avantage. Les écoles ou lycées sont souvent avertis et mettent en place les mesures nécessaires pour donner aux élèves étrangers un soutien précoce, mais il vaut mieux préempter le problème du langage autant que possible, vu son importance dans chaque aspect de la scolarité au Royaume Uni ».

Il est possible que les lycées privés ne fassent pas d’énormes concessions envers les difficultés auxquelles fait face un français, et préparer un déménagement sans conseil ou soutien par cours privés peut s’avérer difficile. C’est à ce point que des conseils judicieux sont essentiels. Une entreprise de Conseillers d’Education de bonne réputation et/ou un établissement de cours privés peuvent certainement venir en aide, comme le peut également ‘The Independent Schools Council’. Il est aussi utile de comprendre la structure des collèges et lycées du Royaume Uni. Les élèves doivent s’adapter à une nouvelle école, sa routine et son nouveau cursus. A l’âge de 14 ans, ils s’embarquent pendant deux ans sur les programmes de GCSE ; à 16 ans, sur les deux ans (sixth form) du programme de A levels ou du 'International Baccalaureate' qui mènera à l’entrée à l’université.

Bizarrement, un changement à l’âge de 16 ans peut être étonnamment facile si vous choisissez des ‘A levels’ qui rentrent dans les cordes de votre fils ou fille : ils pourront se concentrer uniquement sur les quatre matières qui les intéressent le plus. Bien que les ‘A levels’ ont tendance à se baser sur ce qui a été enseigné au paravent, les cours sont suffisamment « nouveaux » pour que tous les ressentent comme différents.

La partie la plus véritablement difficile s’annonce : comment choisir son école/lycée. Beaucoup de ‘Prep (junior) Schools’ ont leurs listes remplies tôt et l’inscription dans les lycées et collèges de Londres se fait des années à l’avance. Personnellement, je vous conseille de prendre contact avec votre expert-conseil en éducation aussi tôt que possible, de mettre en relation votre conseiller et vos professeurs particuliers afin qu’ils travaillent ensemble ; enfin prévoyez d’aller inspecter leur choix d’établissements le plus tôt possible. Au moment de soumettre la candidature de leurs enfants, beaucoup de parents français trouveront l’intérêt et la prise en considération par les établissements des passions et talents des élèves, surtout dans le domaine des arts, du sport et des langues, plutôt rafraichissants. Un antécédent international peut aussi être un avantage sensible. Les examens d’entrée ne se restreignent pas uniquement au niveau académique.

Malgré les contraintes habituelles du programme, toutes les écoles ou lycées privés s’efforcent de placer l’apprentissage indépendant au centre de toutes leurs activités, et pour un grand nombre de ceux qui ont enduré le système français, leur nouvel environnement peut s’avérer véritablement émancipant.

Rory Reilly


Rory Reilly fut pendant 10 ans Chef du Service des Inscriptions à King’s School Canterbury et offre maintenant aux familles françaises les conseils nécessaires pour une transition réussie vers une école ou un lycée britannique.

Moving a Londres

The Fairfield blog


The rewards of moving to a UK Independent School can be tremendous.  Your son or daughter will be released from the very formal French curriculum and they will find themselves in an environment where their views are valued, where they are expected to make a contribution in lessons, and where learning can be an adventure.

Moving younger children is easier but moving to Britain can be a huge opportunity or a huge problem depending on your viewpoint, and that of your child.  The biggest decisions are how bilingual you want your child to be, and how influenced by British culture.

The debate at this level is practical as well as philosophical.  If you want your child to be bilingual but also retain his or her French culture then it is worth doing your research. If you immerse them in a British school you run the risk of their French remaining at a rather juvenile level but if you send them to the Lycée then they will never be truly bilingual. On moving to London the decision therefore, is quite simple; either stay within the French system or step outside and look for a school that will understand your child's background and will make the necessary allowances.  

At primary/junior school level this is relatively easy to find.  London is an international city and most centre city Prep, Pre-Prep and Nursery Schools are therefore international too. Eaton Square School has over 40 different nationalities among its 390 pupils, including 21 French children.  Headmaster Sebastian Hepher suggests that “the French pupils face no more a challenging time than the other nationalities from Europe”. The increase in French 'custom' is true of many schools with whom he meets on a regular basis due to the recent changes in tax laws on the continent.

For Eaton Square the relevant information is:

When they join: The French system is always several years behind and reading, for example, does not happen until they are 6 - 7 years old. Therefore if a child joins for Reception or up to Year 4 there can be related issues there.

Non-English speaker: The acquisition of spoken English is relatively quick and within a year most children communicate well. However, the acquisition of the skills of inference from text and deeper understanding when reading and writing can take up to seven years to fully attain.

The answer to these challenges, Sebastian believes, “is to provide strong EAL support and to 'flow' this through the staff and classes. With this in place success will be obtained. It is also important that the language spoken at home is as much English as any other to further cement this. If this is difficult for the parents then an English nanny, if there a nanny in the household, is preferable. In addition watching English TV and listening to English radio adds more layers”.

The alternative is for your child to join one of the many French Junior schools such as L'Ecole de Battersea which currently educates over 200 pupils from age 3 to 11.

Moving to the UK or into a British school when your child is older; 13 to 16, is probably more difficult and please don't imagine that your son or daughter will manage without some careful planning.  

Between 300,000 and 400,000 French nationals now live in London which is often said to be France’s sixth biggest city. As a result it is is possible to find a "mini-Lycée" in most of the central boroughs but outside the capital things are very different and provision of French education is very rare; the exception being Northbourne Park Prep School in Kent which runs the French curriculum alongside the British.  The Lycée Charles de Gaulle, London, which opened in 1915 now educates almost 4,000 pupils.  A new Lycée, for another 1,000 pupils, will open in Brent Town Hall in Wembley in 2015. The Grade II listed Art Deco building was sold by Brent council to the French Education Property Trust, which will run the school backed by the French embassy.

And so back to planning your move; if your son or daughter already has a good command of English then you can concentrate on curriculum differences.  Do not try to cover all subjects but focus on mathematics and English, and to a lesser extent, science. Marc Dath who teaches Mathematics and has been a Housemaster at The King's School in Canterbury, for 17 years, explains that the difficulties facing a French pupil joining a school following an English curriculum are threefold.

“Firstly, the French teaching methods are very axiomatic while the English approach is more heuristic. The child learns to ‘play with the Maths and Sciences’ and leaves the formalisation till later. This is very much in contrast with the French approach which tends to favour rigour over enjoyment. This means that lessons may seem less structured in the English cursus and less prone to the ‘definition - theorem – lemma’ plan which follows the national French programme.

The second hurdle facing the French pupil is the presentation of mathematical solutions. The rigidity of the lesson plans in the French programme is duly reflected in the expectation by teachers for water-tight written solutions.  A missing ‘implication’ sign will cost you dearly! In contrast, marks will be awarded as long as a hint of an explanation is given in an English piece of homework.

And this leads to the third difficulty. In order to produce strictly argued solutions, the French system favours quality over quantity, which means testing only three or four topics in public exams. Hard luck if these are amongst the topics you did not revise. In contrast, the English papers will attempt to test as many of the topics studied as possible. This implies being able to ‘regurgitate’ as many methods and techniques as manageable in the imparted time. Many French pupils find the tasks demanding in the allotted time.

Nonetheless, these are difficulties which, in time, and given the right attitude, can be overcome and many of our French ‘contingent’ eventually adapt to the ‘trans-manche’ requirements”.

Luke Sullivan, Director of Riviera Tutors - a company that does a lot of work with families in Monaco and the South of France - advises that students moving from the French to the UK Independent system tackle the English language issue before anything else: “The assumption of competent English underpins every subject, even mathematics. Exam questions are sometimes designed to punish careless reading by native English speakers, and for a foreigner this level of nuance can be quite a hurdle to overcome. We often recommend intensive spoken and written English tuition for foreign students making the transition to the UK, as without this the general content of subjects can be inaccessible; it's to gain equality rather than an advantage. Schools are often alert to this and put measures in place to give foreign students an early boost, but it pays to preempt the probable language issue as much as possible, given its relevance to every aspect of schooling in the UK.”

Independent senior schools may not make huge allowances for the difficulties faced by a French national and preparing for a move without consultancy or tutorial support can be very difficult.  This is where good advice is essential.  A reputable educational consultancy and/or tutorial company can certainly help as can The Independent Schools Council. It is also helpful to understand the structure of senior schools in the UK. The pupils have to settle into a new school with its new curriculum and routine.  At age 14+ they start the two year GCSE programme and at 16+ the two year programme (sixth form) in A levels or IB leading on to university entry.

Strangely a move at age 16+ can be surprisingly easy particularly if you are planning to study A levels where your son or daughter can play to his or her strengths and concentrate on just four subjects which are of most interest.  Although A levels do build on what has been taught, the courses are sufficiently "new" for all to feel that they are different.  

So now comes the really difficult part, how to choose a school.  Many Prep (junior) schools are booked up early and entry to senior schools in London is normally sorted out years in advance.  My personal advice is to make contact with your educational consultant as early as possible, get your advisor and tutor to work together and plan to visit their selection of schools as far in advance as is possible.  At the point of application what many French parents will find very refreshing is the interest and account that is taken by the schools of a pupil’s interests and talents, especially in the arts, sport and languages. An international background can also be a distinct advantage. Entry tests here are not restricted to the purely academic.  

Despite the usual curricular constraints all Independent Schools strive to place independent learning at the centre of what they do and for many who have endured the French system their new environment can be truly liberating.

Rory Reilly



Rory Reilly spent 10 years as Registrar for Admissions at The King's School Canterbury and now advises French families on how to make a successful transition to a UK school.

So you want your child to board - where to start

The whole business of choosing the right school can seem daunting to any parent; there are hundreds of boarding schools to choose from and sifting through them all would be an impossible task.  As parents we can’t afford to get this wrong - so a number of simple steps should help.

The first consideration is age.  If your son is under 13 then a Prep School is what you need.  For girls the same can apply but quite a number of schools finish at 11.  If you live in London you will have heard all the horror stories about getting your name onto lists years in advance and having to sit endless tests and interviews; and these are not just for the children!  Boarding is different; waiting lists at most schools are considerably shorter and many fine boarding preps will have spaces even for next September.  For senior boarding schools the story is rather different.  The big names do get booked up in advance but the list of over-subscribed schools is not as lengthy as many might imagine.  In addition many schools have abandoned the old “get the name down at birth” system in favour of a much more streamlined modern process that generally has a lead-in time of about two to three years.  If you have not got yourself organised in advance don’t panic; many excellent boarding schools will have places for next September and virtually all will have space for a superstar.

Your second consideration should be the type of boarding.  Gone are the days of dropping your child off in September and seeing him/her again in December but there is considerable variation in what is on offer.  Many preps will offer flexi or weekly boarding.  This can be the best of both worlds; dipping in and out as you and your child like or perhaps dropping them off on Monday morning and seeing them again on Friday evening.  Sensible schools will not over-burden the kids with homework and weekends can truly be “quality time”.  The “full-boarding” experience is quite different.  The children will remain at school for two to three weeks at a time but will then be home for “exeat weekends”.  This can be wonderful for parents who live abroad or who simply lead very busy lives.  Also the schools go out of their way to make sure that the weekend experience is rather better than most of us parents can provide.  The kids love being at school and we are encouraged to pitch up for matches, teas, poetry competitions, plays, swimming galas and so on.  At senior school there tends to be a simple divide between full and weekly boarding, though some of the “full” are not quite so “full" and a number do empty out at lunchtime or after matches on a Saturday.

Your next consideration is geography.  Most parents prefer to be within striking distance of their child’s school so a travel time of about an hour and a half is a good rule of thumb.  Some will go much further in order to make sure that certain talents are going to be nurtured or to gain a place at one of the highest profile schools.  There are very few “national” boarding schools today but different schools do have different catchments.  The Tonbridge catchment for instance will be much smaller in terms of area than that of Oundle but the reasons for this are obvious; Tonbridge has a huge wealthy local population whereas Oundle is some distance from the immediate impact of London.

At this point being able to remember some basics of economic geography, spheres of influence and catchment areas will be helpful but a map of schools should be forming in your mind or indeed on paper.

Now comes the tricky part.  Your map includes x number of schools and how do you choose the “best”?  If you listen to friends and colleagues you will quickly realise there are lots of “bests” out there.  Of course you will listen to the advice of trusted friends; you will also trawl through the very glossy up-beat websites and you will send for the even glossier brochures.  Boarding schools have invested heavily in marketing over recent years and so they should.  They are selling a very expensive product and every parent of two children that walks through the door is worth a potential £300,000 for senior school education alone.

If your child is already at a Prep School you have a built-in advantage.  Part of the role of Prep Head is to act as your educational advisor.  He or she will help you draw up a short-list of schools that would suit your child.  I would suggest that you take this advice very seriously.  He or she will take into account the character, academic ability and general talent and interests of your child.  Without access to this sort of advice my best suggestion is that you get in touch with a reputable education consultant.  They will certainly charge a fee but when you consider the level of financial and emotional investment, I would suggest this is money well spent.

When you have your list then it is time to plan your visits.  At this stage I should point you to my previous article on Open Days  A private visit works in much the same way as a formal open day and my comments apply equally to both.

An immediate practical step would be to visit The Independent Schools Show in Battersea Park on 8 and 9 November.  Here you will find most of the big boarding schools under one roof with staff on hand to help advise you.  You may enter the exhibition centre knowing very little about English Public Schools but I guarantee that you will be hugely better informed after a few hours of talking and listening.  Tickets are free to those registering in advance on  Even if your selected schools are not in attendance some very impressive ones will be and the Heads, Registrars, Housemasters and Admissions teams will be very happy to talk to you.

I will be at the show as I am hosting a discussion on US v UK universities in the Education Theatre on the Sunday  My panel includes the former Director for Admissions at Yale and the current Head of Student Recruitment at Oxford.  


Rory I Reilly


Boarding School Open Day........did it work for you?

By definition school open days are scripted and orchestrated.  Schools will have selected their guides, planned the route, delivered the set pieces and organised lunch. It looks like a set-up, and it is, but that doesn't mean that it is not a useful exercise.  As parents, or indeed as prospective pupils, you can pick up a huge amount.  It is your task to scratch beneath the veneer and to compare.

Many schools betray their real selves at the first point of contact; the welcome can be lukewarm or even non-existent.  Are they actually interested in you or are you just another inconvenience?  To my mind the effort that is made or not made is likely to be symptomatic of the whole organisation.

In most schools it is the pupils that do the tours.  Some are very careful to provide the script and prescribe the route but it is your job to deviate from this.  Get personal, ask what is best and worst about their lives at school, their favourite teacher/subject/activity, ask to see a particular department or lesson and make sure you chat to some of the "ordinary" teaching staff.  Half way round head for the loo.  Remember you are trying to find out how the pupils are cared for.

Don't be seduced by the facilities.  Every school will have wonderful buildings, some very whizzy high-tech machines, endless playing fields and competition size swimming pools.  Remember your son/daughter may have no interest in most of this kit, may never want to act or row or sing, and what really matters is will he/she be happy, be looked after properly and be taught well.  On the academic front you need to look at the exam statistics, find out where last year's cohort went on to and then compare that to the intake level.  Counting the number going on to Oxbridge is pointless if your boy is going to scrape an A and two Bs at A level.

Another frequent debate is IB v A levels v Pre U.  My advice here is to not get too hung up on the system.  When we look back at our school days do we remember the system or those few inspirational teachers?  It is much more important to check on the enthusiasm of the teaching staff, the nature of the support given when your girl is struggling with some topic or other and always remember who will be dealing with your precious offspring on a daily basis.  Meet a housemaster, a classroom teacher, a matron, a senior pupil.  Ask about contact between school and home, about feedback of information and access to interim reports.

And what of the Head?  He/She certainly sets the tone.  How is the Head thought of by the pupils?  They will tell you, they tend to be disarmingly honest!  Don't be swayed by the speech or the presentation skills, get to talk to him/her.  Get a feel for the character.  If there is an opportunity for questions then do ask but don't try to be too clever or competitive.  Again remember what is really important; the emotional well-being of your child is paramount, not whether there is a bias against public schools at Oxbridge, Bristol or Edinburgh.

At the end don't adopt a tick-box mentality.  This won't work as all these big boarding schools will tick virtually all of the boxes for you.  Go with your gut feeling and above all listen to your son/daughter.  Much as you might like to, you are not choosing a school for yourself and if you are sensible you will not be looking at a substandard school.  Don't try to see too many, listen to the advice of people you trust but always remember most parents who have chosen a school will be very keen to view that as the "best". We want to justify and feel good about the choice, after all we are paying through the nose for it.

Let me know how it did go, if the day made an impression, good or bad.

Rory I Reilly

First-time Boarding Parents - How to cope

Being a parent is difficult enough and most of us struggle getting the basics right.  Making the decision for our children to board away from home is certainly taken for all the right reasons, but we can often feel at a complete loss when reality sets in and we leave them behind on day one.  So, we are now one week in to the new school year and, as Sam Price, Head of Benenden School, says, "the second week can be exhausting for new pupils.  The adrenaline of the first week has reduced and the real routine starts to settle".  She cautions parents not to be "overly anxious if your son/daughter is either very tired or emotional when you speak to them" and to "encourage them to talk to you about what they are enjoying".

Something to remember is that one of the main reasons for choosing a boarding school is to allow/encourage your child to be more independent.  Richard Backhouse, Headmaster of Monkton Combe comments that "as parents we have a strong protective instinct to step in and enable our children to go through childhood without struggle, but the struggle is the education sometimes."  A Hong Kong parent once said to him ''Don't apologise if things go wrong - my son will learn more when they go wrong. I am more interested in what goes wrong than what goes right." Unsurprisingly his son did extremely well!

There is no correct template for the frequency of contact.  Some children seem to need more, some far less.  The warning bells should ring if they are operating at either of the extremes.  As a parent I feel entitled to some contact, after all I'm paying the fees!  That contact will vary in type and frequency depending on the nature of the child and the nature of your relationship.  Don't forget they will only be able to call you on Skype or on the phone when there is a lull in proceedings at school and when they can find a private space for a chat.  This may well settle into a pattern but at the beginning calls may happen at rather odd times.  One Sixth form girl had to remember to call her dad before breakfast as by then he would have finished his work on Sakhalin Island and would have time to chat.  Headmaster of Wellesley House Prep, Simon O'Malley, stresses the need to stick to arrangements and make sure that you, as parent, will be available for that call when you say you will.

The perception is that boys will ring less often, for less time and have far less to say.  Everything will be "fine" and all questions will be answered with "yes", "OK", "no". Sometimes we feel like shaking some information out of them, and texting and emailing is just as bad.  There is no solution to this situation; just learn to gauge what lies behind the monosyllabic responses; check the school's interim reports for progress, ask the tutor or Housemaster for an update every now and again and don't feel embarrassed for doing so.  Remember, again you are the one who is paying those fees!  Having that information allows you to have a more informed conversation with your son and it may also allow you to concentrate on other important matters such as football, food and so on.

You may of course have a girl who gets to that point in the day when she needs to cuddle up with mum or dad and just sigh.  She will have no concept of the impact that the anxiously awaited phone call will have and may need to explain to you just how awful one of the other pupils has been and how unfair a particular teacher is.  She may be tired and just burst into tears.  I well remember checking back with the houseparents of my homesick daughter to be told that within seconds of having off-loaded to me she was bouncing around, laughing with her friends.  Bear in mind what your role in all this is.  You are to be the constant; someone who can listen and understand.  You are not needed to interfere and solve, just to listen.  If you are really worried check back with the housemistress.  A quick email can deliver many extra hours of sleep (for you I mean).

So what is the right pattern of contact?  It is impossible to answer that for you.  Just work out what you think is best, just as we do with most aspects of parenting.  Try not to be a "helicopter parent" or indeed a "tiger mum".  But likewise, don't give up on your responsibilities.  Just because you are on the other side of the world does not mean that you should not be involved.  Strike a balance and if you do have concerns get in touch sooner rather than later.  Housemasters, Housemistresses, Tutors and Matrons are all there to support your children.  They see them on a daily basis and will be able to deal with any concerns that you have, regardless of their seriousness or lack of.  

Richard Burnett, Housemaster of School House at Tonbridge School, says: "Trust the Housemaster and be ready to 'let go' at one level, whilst letting the housemaster know of any feedback you are getting from the child. Forget about academic things for at least the first term. The most important thing is for the child to be happy and settled so that they build strong pastoral foundations. All good work flows naturally from this."

Mark Lascelles, Head of Dauntsey's School, stresses the need for ongoing communication with the school.  Some parents, he suggests, feel they should not bother the school at all, but times have changed and this is now a triangular process involving school, pupil and parents.

The good news is that, despite never quite knowing what is best, we parents seem to muddle through and the children  thrive.

R I Reilly 
9 September 2014


A Commentary on GCSE results 2014

Perhaps the first question is do GCSE results actually matter?  As far as
the top universities are concerned they do, but to differing degrees.
Oxford and Cambridge will always claim that top scores at AS can make up for
weaker GCSEs but, having spent many years interviewing for one Oxbridge
College, my judgement is that they do matter, and fewer than seven A* would
count against a candidate in the final selection.  What was clear after two
rounds of interviews was that, yes, there were exceptions but generally
those selected had at least seven.

With the decision to drop AS scores as being an integral part of A level it
is likely that GCSE grades will become even more important.  Just as likely,
of course is that the most competitive universities will set more of their
own "make or break" tests.

Just as with A levels the results from the UK boarding schools have varied
with the quality of intake.  Wycombe Abbey may be very selective at point of
entry but their tally of 99% A*/A is simply stunning.  It is no wonder that
Head Rhiannon Wilkinson is "hugely proud" of her girls but she is also very
keen to emphasise all that they do in sport and the creative Arts.  One
can't really see any significant variation across subjects until we examine
the results of those schools whose percentage is somewhat lower than this.
Across quite a number it is clear that Biology has come top of the sciences
this year but, as at A level, Mathematics is on the march and generally
pupils have performed better in Maths than for instance, in English.  This
is true right across the sector, whether boys, girls or co-ed.

Certain schools seem to have particular niche subjects which stand out from
the rest.  Sherborne Boys Art Department has had a tremendous year both at
GCSE and A level with all grades bar one at A*.  Similarly at King's
Canterbury languages were strong but Chinese stands out with 21/22 A*.
Likewise Dauntseys' Drama department has done superbly well.  At Canford
Maths, Art and Music stand out while at St Mary's Calne 92% of the total
year group gained A or A* in Religious Studies which is compulsory.

The big boarding schools just plough through the GCSE programme with their
pupils gaining A and A* grades in virtually all subjects; Tonbridge (95%),
Sevenoaks (94%), Oundle (86%).  Interestingly, while most divide between
single subject science (triple award) and the dual-award qualification,
Sevenoaks insist on all taking all three subjects believing that stretching
the pupils is more important than the simple accumulation of A*s.

Some of the co-ed schools such as Oundle and King's Canterbury report a
gender divide with girls scoring more A*s.  Is this simply because girls
work harder and are more organised at this stage or is there something more
to this?  Over twelve years of interviewing I have seen increasing numbers
of girls gaining places at Oxford.  Is the seed sown at GCSE level?  The
down-side of being in a highly selective school is, of course, the feeling
of failure for those not gaining a full set of A* grades. 

If there is a conclusion to be drawn it is that the top boarding schools do
a superb job at GCSE level but it is also clear that schools which may be
slightly below the radar have tremendous strengths in particular areas.
September is looming and the start of a new academic year will bring through
a new crop of pupils to the UK's Boarding Schools.  It is certain that we
will see continual change in Government Ministers, curricula and technology
but one stabilising influence in all this will be the schools themselves.
They will continue to do what they always have; deliver a world class
education that ranges far beyond the confines of the classroom.

Rory Reilly


A Level Results 2014 - how the UK's Boarding Schools have fared

Twitter was awash with results posts as we went through Thursday.  The most important news however was not the outcome of the exams themselves but the fact that there were many more university places available, including at Russell Group universities.  This meant that many who did not gain their offer grades still gained places at their university of choice and some of those who out-performed what was expected were able to trade up in terms of course and university.

So what can we learn from the results gained by the UK's boarding schools?
Some like Eton, Harrow and Radley seem to have ignored the internet today and no results have been published.  It will take a few more days to get these but perhaps there is a hidden message here; we simply don't have to brag about our results as we are so secure in the Independent School market.

Of those that did publish, Tonbridge School, has shown that being male is no barrier to success with 93% A* to B grades and 34% at A* while Winchester gained 51% at  D1 and D2 Pre U (equivalent to A*).

In terms of raw results the girls schools have done well.  Wycombe Abbey, probably the most selective, leads the way with 48% at A* and a stunning 90% A*/A.  The interesting question is do these results mean that Wycombe is "better" than the hugely popular but less selective Benenden and Cheltenham Ladies.  Benenden with 20% A* and Cheltenham with 29% appear to be some distance behind but with 90% of grades at Benenden being in the all important A* to B zone, and Cheltenham receiving over fifty offers from US universities, parental satisfaction is bound to be high. 

The big Co-educational schools often dominate the headlines and none more so than Wellington whose results continue to climb as its popularity soars and selection at 13+ and at 6th form gets tougher.  This year Sir Anthony's pupils have gained an impressive 95% A* to B just pipping Brighton College at 94%.  

The very popular Canford, Oundle, Uppingham, Rugby, Marlborough, Shrewsbury and King's Canterbury all sit in a zone between 82 and 85% A* to B with Haileybury, Lancing, Bradfield and Monkton Combe just behind.

And what of the International Schools?  Concord pupils yet again produced stunning A level results competing with the very best.  Queen Ethelburga's lies just below this mark and the impressive Sevenoaks comes through with an IB average of 39.1.  Of course Cardiff Sixth Form once again tops this list with a hugely impressive 95% A*/A.

So what can parents learn from this barrage of tweets and statistics?  To be honest, not a great deal.  It is clear that some schools are more selective and do get better results, but these are all high-quality schools and picking a school for your child from this group cannot, or perhaps should not, be done simply on the basis of these results.  There is so much more to each of these schools and the atmosphere and ethos at one will be quite different to another.  

Thoughts on GCSE will be published next week.

Rory I Reilly